The challenge for Muslims, as is perhaps for all human beings on the face of this earth, is to live a life anchored in divine values, in the values that God has taught human beings; our core to the moral existence. It is elementary but necessary to say that there is an existence. It is a biological fact that all beings are given consciousness, and because they are given consciousness, they exist and they live. Part of this consciousness is our nervous system, which responds to stimulus and brings us the experience of emotions. Some emotions are pleasant, while others are unpleasant, but that is the nature of consciousness and the nature of the nervous system.
So many creatures that God has created live and die, and that is the extent of their existence. They were beings that were granted consciousness, granted a working nervous system, and that nervous system induced them to feel moments of pleasure and induced them to feel moments of displeasure; only for it to all end as mysteriously as it began. We have no hand in the birth of consciousness, and we have very little to do with the end of consciousness. But to be a being endowed with consciousness and a reactive nervous system from the beginning to the end of life is not worshipping God. God tells us in the Qur’an, "I have only created human beings for worship."
The Quran tells us to ponder, reflect and to come to know God. But to come to know God is not simply to intersperse ritual in life. If the rituals you partake in do not have much impact on your nervous system, it will not guide it one way or the other. It is as if ritual is simply a time filler in our existence, or just simply one of just one of the many chores that human beings have to take care of in order to feel that they have lived life. To come to know God is to understand the attributes and the characteristics of divinity; and that is coming to know the realm of values.
Values are determinations about what is good and what is bad as a matter of principle, regardless of how it impacts our individual personal nervous system. To live according to values is to say, "Yes, I have a consciousness. Yes, I have a nervous system, but that nervous system does not define me as a human being. I am more than that. I am not simply an animal that responds to the stimuli of pleasure and displeasure. I am more than that." To say you are more than that means that the way you approach your nervous system is to say, "Yes, I know certain things make you happy and others make you unhappy, but you, nervous system, are not me. I am something beyond my nervous system. I can think in terms of value, I can think in terms of divine objectives. And because I think, I reflect, I understand and I comprehend the way I approach you, nervous system, I can tell you your feelings about this matter are right, and your feelings about that matter are wrong."
It is stating the obvious, but the truth is often obvious. So many of us say we believe, and so many of us say we are Muslims, and so many of us will even perform our rituals, but values have very little to do with what we feel or not feel on a daily basis, and even less to do with how we conduct ourselves or not conduct ourselves on a daily basis. The very point of values is to acknowledge that just because you feel it, it does not mean it is necessarily right. The very point of values is to demand that you live a principled life.
To worship God is to literally surrender the self from complete subjugation to the tyranny of the senses. To surrender that self from tyranny of the senses to God. You do not simply live as a slave to your ego, what it demands when it demands it. Instead, you live within the guiding light of your Lord, and your Lord has made the path of guidance so clear, and yes, at times overwhelming.
God commands you to pursue, first and foremost, justice and goodness, and the ties of kinship, and commands you to steer away from all that is corrupt and all that is immoral. That divine command. Indeed, one of the names of God is, “The just.” But justice requires a soul that responds to something other than stimuli of the nervous system. If you do not care about justice, there is simply no possible way that you care about your Lord.
God has described the divine self as just, and informed us in no uncertain terms that we are charged with understanding and pursuing justice and goodness. God has willed us into the demands of a reflective life. It is remarkable that the Muslims of today are not at the forefront of the discourses on justice, nor are they at the forefront of thinking about what a reflective and moral life means or looks like.
Again, ritual is a beautiful thing, but only if ritual is something other than busy work. Only if ritual affirms and strengthens the bond that you have with your Lord, and you understand the truth of what your Lord is, and the truth of what your Lord is: A sum total of values. It is simply obscene if you can perform rituals, but in all other regards you are simply a being that responds to the stimuli of their consciousness and their nervous system, and nothing more. But this is the vast majority of people in our current age.
They can pray, but prayer does not affect whether they are happy or sad. They can fast, but fasting does not affect how their nervous system responds to any situation. To them, rituals simply become busy work. Is this worship? Did God gaze upon us and say, "With all my glory, I have created you so I can see you five times a day standing up, bowing down, prostrating, then standing up." Do you think this is really what God created us for? Do you think that God created us and then said, "What I care about is how many Tasbihs, Tahmids and Takbirs you say during the day, but otherwise, you can live in the heart of injustice, immorality, and ugliness?"
This is an offense against divinity itself. To make the divine so petty as to simply care about optics such as beards and hijabs, and to simply care about the formulaic language of Tahmids and Tasbihs, to care about physical movements of prostration. Really? God created all of this, and the magnanimity of the human intellect with all of its complexity, so we can imitate the optics of a bygone age?
There are so many people that think that to live a reflective life means that you have to live a depressed life, or a sad life. And nothing is further from the truth. To live concerned with the issues of justice means that you live beyond the vagaries of your nervous system and its tyranny; the way that your nervous system will take you up one moment and down the other. But it is learning to find happiness and pleasure in the moral values of divinity. It is learning to find happiness and pleasure every time you can render aid, every time you can see good prevail, every time you can do anything to help anyone. And you say, "Yes, that's what I was created for. That is what God wants me to do."
A lack of intelligence has a remarkable ability to catch up with people so quickly and to do horrible things to them. Since colonialism, it is non-Muslims that have always carried the burden - the intellectual project - of defining Muslims to themselves. In some ages, the non-Muslim world - and mostly the Western world - spoke about zealots as opposed to normal Muslims; fanatic as opposed to normal Islam; extremists, fundamentalists, militarists, jihadists, and most recently, “Political Islam”. In all of these dynamics, it was not Muslims who were defining themselves, who were thinking about their own theological orientations. It was non-Muslims who have gone beyond the call of living within the trap of their nervous systems.
Non-Muslims will have an intellectual project. Unfortunately, most of the time, that intellectual project will not be friendly towards Islam - and then they approach and define Muslims for themselves. And because Muslims have largely been absent from the intellectual arena for much of recent history, even to this day, Muslims have followed these intellectual projects blindly, simply repeating what they are told, like brainless zombies. When the West talks about zealots in Islam, Muslims do the same. When the West talks about militants in Islam, Muslims do the same. When the West talks about Jihadists in Islam, Muslims do the same. When the West talks about extremists in Islam, Muslims do the same. When the West talks about fundamentalists in Islam, Muslims do the same. And now, everywhere you go, you find Muslims, like parrots, repeating the language of “Political Islam”.
Last khutbah, I talked about the incoherence of the concept, but shortly after that khutbah, God sent my way an example of how dangerous incoherence can be. Last year, the Austrian government raided the homes of about 60 prominent Muslims in Austria. There were no charges, no real accusations, only that in the eyes of the Austrian government, these 60 Muslims could have been adherents of “Political Islam”. But more recently, the Austrian government decided to go beyond this, and took the initiative to conduct several surveys.
First, the Austrian government created The Documentation Center for Political Islam, which surveyed the mosques in Austria and subsequently decided that 600 mosques - nearly all the mosques in Austria - were “‘Political Islam’ practitioners”. But, they did not stop there. The Documentation Center for Political Islam published a map of the mosques in Austria who are “‘Political Islam’ practitioners.” But they did not stop there. The Austrian government then hung up signs at each of the 600 mosques, which feature a picture of an angry-looking Arab and the warning, "This is a dangerous area because ‘Political Islam’ is present."
And of course, since the Austrian government did this, bigoted attacks against Muslims in Austria skyrocketed. And throughout all of this, no one truly understands what definition of “Political Islam” the Austrian government is using. The Documentation Center upon which the labeling was based is, of course, staffed with Islamophobes. But this is the nature of the thing.
Any of these mosques that spoke about the ban of the hijab in Austrian primary schools got branded as “Political Islam.” Any of these mosques that spoke about reasonable accommodations at work for Ramadan or for the hijab got branded as “Political Islam.” Any of these mosques that spoke about any of the issues that Jews and Christians speak about all the time got branded as “Political Islam.” Any of these mosques that were unhappy with what Israel does in the West Bank and Gaza got branded as “Political Islam.” Any of these mosques that said anything about Jerusalem got branded as “Political Islam.”
People like me know what the label “Political Islam” has done in countries like the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt; where anyone at any time, if they say the wrong word, if they look the wrong way, or if they have a fight with someone who is or who has connections to the military or police force, immediately get accused of “Political Islam” and are arrested and promptly disappear. This is the nature of the people that have relegated the task of thinking for themselves to others.
When Muslims lose the obvious point, when God commands us to pursue justice and goodness, and you forget what that means and you say, "Islam is just about optics, your prayer and your fasting," you get defined by the other. This is the world that you create. Who would have imagined? Who would have imagined that Austria, or France, or the Netherlands, or Denmark - countries that after World War II, we imagined as the bastions of democracy and civil liberties, have turned out to be so fragile when it came to the racial challenge of having to deal with the Muslim other?
While I understand the intolerance of these societies towards the other, what I cannot understand is those who raise the next generation of Muslims like they were raised: Unintelligent, uneducated, and oblivious. How can you raise an intelligent Muslim if you are teaching your child, "Be a Muslim, but do not be a political Muslim?" Before you use such language, ask yourself, "Who defines the language?"
When it comes to “Political Islam,” the racists and bigots in the French government are the ones who define the language. The racists and bigots in Austria are the ones who define the language. The Islamophobes of America are the ones who define the language. The fascist ruler of Egypt, Sisi, is the one who defines the language. The psychotic ruler of Saudi Arabia is the one who defines the language. The equally psychotic ruler of the United Arab Emirates is the one who defines the language. You are using language that is defined, formulated, packaged, utilized and circulated by bigots, racists, fascists, and psychotic tyrants. The least we can do is to teach our children to think for themselves, to live a reflective life, to live a life in which they pursue meaning, to live a life in which ritual helps them achieve meaning, a life in which they are not distracted from the pursuit of meaning. That is the least we can do.
I want to read to you the opening of an article about our Muslim brothers and sisters in China, about Chinese family in Dubai and what happened to them:
"Amannisa Abdullah and her husband, Ahmad Talip, were on their way to shop for baby clothes in Dubai, when the message that changed both their lives came through. Ahmad read it and announced an abrupt change of plan: He had to report to a police station immediately. Ahmad dropped Amannisa off at a friend's house that day, promising to pick her up later, but Ahmad never came back. In their Dubai apartment, a sleepless Amannisa prayed and cried through the night, watching the hours pass as her repeated calls to Ahmad went unanswered.
“The next morning, the heavily pregnant 29-year-old shuffled out of the door, hugging her five-year-old son close. They hailed a taxi to the police station where she tried to explain her predicament to a police officer. As she spoke, her little boy tugged at her hand. Quietly, he pointed towards a jail cell where Ahmad was sitting. For 13 days, Amannisa shuttled back and forth between her home and the jail, pleading with law enforcement in Dubai to release Ahmad.
“With each visit, her husband looked more dejected. He told her he was convinced that the long reach of China had reached his Uyghur family in the United Arab Emirates. ‘It's not safe here. You must take our boy and go to Turkey,’ he told Amannisa in their last conversation. ‘If our new baby is a girl, please call her Amina. If it is a boy, please call him Abdullah.’ A week later, Ahmad was sent to the UAE capital in Abu Dhabi. Five days later, Amannisa said the Abu Dhabi authorities told her that he had been extradited to China. Ahmad went to a concentration camp where he never reappeared.”
This is part of an article about how Chinese Muslims are extradited from the United Arab Emirates to China, so China can place them in concentration camps where they are forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, and learn Mandarin Chinese. Even if they survive or their organs are not harvested, their Islam is wiped out clean. Ahmad, of course, is not the exception, because the United Arab Emirates has been sending any Chinese person that even comes to Dubai or Abu Dhabi as visitors back to China.
Egypt has rounded up its Uyghur Chinese students who are studying at Azhar and forcibly sent them back to China, where they go on to disappear in concentration camps. These are Muslims who escaped a Muslim country, who enrolled to study at Azhar to become theologians and jurists. And what does the Egyptian government do? It rounds them up and sends them back to China to be destroyed. Not a word from the director of Azhar. Not a word of protest or condemnation. It does not stop there. Chinese Muslims who attended Umrah or Hajj were seized by the Saudi government and turned over to the Chinese government. So even if you are a Uyghur or a Chinese Muslim living in the U.S., or living in Europe or Turkey, and you go to Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Hajj, they arrest you and turn you over to the Chinese government. Muslims are not just complicit, but in the same way that the Egyptian government has been blockading and strangling Gaza to death for ages now, Muslims are turning over disempowered, helpless Chinese Muslims over to the Chinese government so the Chinese government can kill them off.
What do you think God will do with the people who are like that? People often tell me, "You are too pessimistic. Why not talk about happy topics?" Do you want me to lie to God? Do you want me to cheat God? I know that there are Muslim brothers and sisters whose misfortune is that they were born as Chinese Muslims, and I know that they are seized and turned over to a concentration camp by fellow Muslims.
Muslims, all types of Muslim governments, are fully complicit in the genocide committed against the Muslim people of China. The immorality and evil of these governments has to be recognized. You cannot have a so-called Imam like Hamza Yusuf have a charming relationship with the United Arab government. You cannot listen to Imams who have a charming relationship with the Saudi government. You cannot listen to Imams who ignore the immorality of the Egyptian government and their criminal conduct. You cannot.
You cannot say, "I will do whatever I want, whatever makes me feel warm and fuzzy; I just simply respond to the call of my nervous system," instead of living a principled, moral life - a moral life that recognizes what is right and what is wrong; that recognizes that sending people to perish in concentration camps is wrong; that being friendly with governments that do so is wrong; that being friendly with those who are friendly with governments who do this is wrong. I have given up on people like Hamza Yusuf, I do not think they will ever wake up. But how about you? People will say, "This person is a great Muslim, but they love and follow Hamza Yusuf," Then no, they are not a great Muslim. If you do not recognize the immorality of a human being, you are immoral. It is as simple as that. Are you a moral or an immoral human being?
A member of the UAE’s royal family bought a British soccer team from Manchester City. Recently, a Muslim Algerian player, Riyad Mahrez, handed this team a victory. When Mahrez was being honored for winning the national cup for his team, he raised the Palestinian flag and so, the Emirati owners of this team fired him. They put him up for sale, meaning they do not want him in the team anymore, just because he raised the Palestinian flag. This is the same government whose ambassador went to Shalom Cohen, the racist bigot, the Islamophobe who calls Palestinians animals and who wants Palestinians expelled; the same government whose ambassador went to Cohen and said, "Bless me. Put your hands on my head and give me blessings."
And then you have this American Muslim say, "I am silent." Silent? When the devil is present and you do not have the nerve to acknowledge him as the devil, then you are also a devil. If you choose to remain silent, you are part of an immoral enterprise. You are immoral. Your supporters are immoral. You want to call that “Political Islam,” call it “Political Islam.” You want to call that Moral Islam? That is my terminology. “Ethical Islam.” As if there is any other type of Islam. It is either an Islam that makes ethical sense, or it is not Islam at all because frankly, there is no morality in lying to God, and no morality in keeping up the pretenses of a lie perpetuated against God.